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FIFTEEN

HORSES, HITTITES, AND HISTORY

More than 4,000 years before the recent expansion of Europeans over all other continents, there was an earlier expansion within Europe and western Asia that sired most of the languages spoken in that region today. Although those earlier conquerors were illiterate, much of their language and culture can be reconstructed from shared word roots preserved in modern Indo-European languages. Their conquest of much of Eurasia, like the subsequent overseas expansion of their descendants, appears to have been an accident of biogeography. 'Yksi, kaksi, kolme, nelja, viisi.

I watched the little girl counting out five marbles, one by one. Her was familiar, but her words were strange. Almost anywhere else Europe, I would have heard words like our English 'one, two, three' 'uno, due, tre' in Italy, 'ein, zwei, drei' in Germany, 'odin, dva, tri' in Russia. But I was vacationing in Finland, and Finnish is one of Europe's) non-Indo-European languages.

Today, most European languages and many Asian languages as far as India are very similar to each other (see table of vocabulary overle; No matter how we complain while memorizing French word lists school, these so-called 'Indo-European' languages resemble English, each other, and differ from all the world's other languages, in vocabul and grammar. Only 140 of the modern world's 5,000 tongues belong this language family, but their importance is far out of proportion to tt numbers. Thanks to the global expansion of Europeans since 149! especially of people from England, Spain, Portugal, France, and Russi nearly half the world's present population of five billion now speaks Indo-European language as its native tongue.

To us it may seem perfectly natural, and in no need of further explanation, that most European languages resemble each other, until we go to parts of the world with great linguistic diversity do realize how weird is Europe's homogeneity, and how it cries out explanation. For example, in areas of the New Guinea highlands where I work and where first contact with the outside world began only in the Twentieth Century, languages as different as Chinese is from English replace each other over short distances (Chapter Thirteen). Eurasia must also have been diverse in its pre-first-contact condition, and gradually become less so until finally some people speaking the mother tongue of the Indo-European language family steamrollered almost all other European languages out of existence.


AXES OF THE OLD AND NEW WORLDS | The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee | INDO-EUROPEAN VERSUS NON-INDO-EUROPEAN VOCABULARY